We’re up at 5:30am because the wind is already tearing at the tent walls, threatening to send us like a tumbleweed across the Altiplano. With the windchill, it’s well below freezing outside. In order to get water I have to break through a layer of ice on the river.
The skin at the joints of my fingers are cracked and painful from the cold. Like having a million paper cuts, I’m keenly aware how much we use our fingers and hands to pack up camp.
We are on the road by 7:45. The wind is ferocious and wicked cold. It feels like it’s trying to rip my face off. For a few minutes I consider the reconstruction options for frostbit lips. I decide I’d rather not find out and cover my entire face with a scarf. I look like a ninja in pastels.
We have to keep moving to stay warm. Scott is far ahead of me. I don’t expect him to wait up, it’s too cold to stop. We’ll meet up at the Laguna Colorada.
Fighting the wind and cold, I have concerns that we’ve got ourselves in over our head.
I’ve gone 15 miles and I notice that I no longer see tracks from Scott’s bike. I stop a tourist jeep headed in the opposite direction and ask if they’ve seen another cyclist. They have not seen any other cyclists today.
I figure Scott got a ride. It’s miserable out here and he’s been talking about getting a ride for days.
As more time goes by I start to worry and then become annoyed that he hasn’t sent a note back with one of the tourist jeeps letting me know his location. I assume he’s at the Laguna Colorada.
I am moving really slow, only averaging about 5mph. Unbeknownst to me, I have summited my highest mountain pass to date, 16150 feet / 4922 meters (beating Punta Olimpica by 50 feet!). These are the things you can accomplish when you’re stewing about your husband leaving you on the Altiplano.
After 25 miles, I’ve been biking for 5 hours, I should be at the Laguna Colorada. My map shows the road passing right next to it. I stand in the middle of the road and flag down a mining truck. The driver tells me I’m on the wrong road. The laguna is over the mountains to my right. He points to some blank space on my map and tells me I’m there, in the void of nothingness.
Now I’m starting to get nervous. The road I’m on isn’t even on my map. Scott has the tent and the GPS. I have to find shelter by nightfall or I will surely freeze. The trucker tells me I’m 3 miles from the tiny village of Polques (by “village”, it has two buildings).
Meanwhile back at the laguna, Scott is waiting for me. There was an unmarked turnoff to the laguna and he left a note in rocks on the road for me to turn (I saw neither the turnoff or the rock art note). After waiting for 2.5 hours he assumes I missed the turn. He finds some park rangers to inquire about a radio to see if there are any checkpoints or park offices that could help reconnect us. There is no radio. The park workers offer to drive Scott through the park to look for me.
Back in my world, I’ve now biked way over the 3 miles the trucker told me I’d need to go to arrive in Polques. It’s getting late and I’m very tired. I’ve already biked for over 6 hours, over a 16,000+ foot mountain pass, on a rough road in a blasting wind, on only breakfast and a cookie snack. Passing vehicles are few so I decide to flag down the next vehicle and ask again about the little village ahead and maybe just get a ride.
The pick-up truck pulls over as soon as the driver sees me. It’s a park vehicle. And in the back is Scott. I am so happy to see him. He looks pretty relieved too.
We had an additional 8 miles to Polques, but the day ended well. Turns out Polques has a hotel and hot springs. Even though the hotel doesn’t have running water and only had electricity for a few hours in the evening, I’m convinced this was the best 70 Bolivianos ($10 USD) ever spent, to be out of the wind and not covered in sand as we sleep.
We soaked our sore bodies for over 2 hours, retelling the day’s events. For the first time in 612 days of travel, we lost each other out on the road, unfortunately it was in one of the most remote of places.